Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rodrigue Honored Tonight

On October 26, 2013, George Rodrigue receives in New Orleans the prestigious Opus Award from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art during their annual gala, O What a Night!.  Unable to attend the event, we asked Jacques Rodrigue, his fiancé Mallory Page Chastant, and André Rodrigue to accept the award on George's behalf, and to speak for us.  Below is the speech in its entirety.

Jacques, speaking for his dad:

I’ve always said that if I wasn’t born in Louisiana, I would have never accomplished what I have in the art world, because my career started out by trying to recapture old Louisiana, and to show how different our state is from the rest of the country.

(pictured, Broken Limb...Girard Oak, 1975 by George Rodrigue, 24x30, oil on canvas)

But as I got into it, I realized that every part of America is unique, and that many artists over the past 200 years captured the parts of the country that moved them most.

When I returned from art school in California in 1967, I saw Louisiana in a completely different way.  I tried to create a style that would express the Louisiana of the past.  As I got into it, I realized that this was just the beginning of a series that would lead into the present day, with subject matter including customs, traditions, people, and the landscape.

(pictured, George Rodrigue's studio, Lafayette, Louisiana, 1973; click photo to enlarge-)

After 25 years focused on this premise, I painted an old French-Cajun tale of the loup-garou, which evolved over another 25 years into what the Blue Dog is today.  As with my Cajun series, I had no idea it would last all of this time --- in my mind, on my canvas, or for the public.

(pictured, Loup-garou, 1991 by George Rodrigue, 72x48, oil on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)

Meanwhile, Roger Ogden and a few friends had a vision to exhibit southern art and preserve it for future generations.  This building has truly become a warehouse of southern treasures that probably would never have been appreciated to this extent were it not for their efforts.

Both Roger and I started in Lafayette.  I remember hearing years ago that he was putting together a collection of local artists and southern artists, with the idea of opening a museum one day. From the beginning, I hoped to be a part of this story and legacy in some way.

Thank you to everyone associated with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art for presenting me with the Opus Award.  I am truly touched by this recognition.

Mallory, speaking for Wendy:

As George’s wife, I live a blessed life immersed in the arts.  But it’s more than that.  George has a unique way of seeing the world, both literally, as with his breakdown of oak trees and the interesting shapes formed between their branches, and abstractly, as in the life’s lessons gained from an illness, or the possibilities within space, dreams, and the origin of man. 

He explained once: 
“Every great artist has taken a common thing and made people see it in a different way.”

He also said:  
“The closer you are to who you really are, is the best thing; yet most people can’t get past 5 p.m.”

(pictured, Soul Mates, 1997 by George Rodrigue, silkscreen edition 50)

In 2003 the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition of Thomas Struth photographs.  The life-size images showed museum-goers viewing great works of art.  At George’s suggestion, we watched from around a corner as visitors approached a photograph and stared not at the image of people looking at a Degas street scene, but rather at the Degas street scene itself --- despite the fact that the actual painting hung on the wall on another floor of this same museum.

“They can’t see!” 

...said George.  And through his observation, as I have many times in the past twenty-three years, I saw more clearly.

(pictured, sharing art at the Alexandria Museum of Art, surrounded by Copley to Warhol, a traveling exhibition from the New Orleans Museum of Art; click photo to enlarge-)

Following the exhibition, we sat on a bench in the Metropolitan’s Great Hall.  A video portrait by Struth illuminated a large wall, perhaps 20 or 30 feet high, between the columns.  The giant head of a woman blinked her eyes or twitched her nose, while otherwise remaining still. 

After a long period of silence, I voiced both our thoughts:

“The Blue Dog.”

As we left the museum and walked, on that beautiful fall day exactly ten years ago, into New York’s Central Park, George replied, 

“I’ll never see it, Wendy…

          ….but you will.”

André, speaking for both his dad and Wendy:

Following that day long ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we’ve known many wonderful recognitions and exhibitions for George’s art.  As he predicted, however, the Metropolitan has not come calling!  

Yet, to our surprise, hanging in the greatest museum in the world no longer feels important.  Rather, we’ve found greater personal rewards in the classroom, sharing our story and George’s vision with students

It’s the kids who bridge the art.

(pictured, Edwins Elementary School, Fort Walton Beach, Florida; click photo to enlarge-)

We’ve learned that to be studied by a child is the best way to connect with the future and is more important than hanging on the walls with the great masters. 

We’ve also learned that the greatest honor is to be recognized by our peers, especially fellow Louisiana artists and art lovers.  Similar to seeking the respect of one’s parents, all George ever really wanted was to be appreciated at home.

(pictured, Aioli Dinner, 1971 by George Rodrigue, 32x46, oil on canvas; unveiled with Roger Ogden  at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 2012; click photo to enlarge-)

We are both humbled and honored by George receiving the Opus Award, and we apologize, from the depths of our southern souls, that we cannot be there to thank you in person.

In 1974, during an interview with the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, George Rodrigue said these words:  

“At this time, artists should try to produce something from themselves, or from their area --- that’s where art is headed today.  All America really has left in art is what one feels.”


-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook

Best Blogger Tips

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Right Thing

“I hate the right thing to do...” 

...grumbled my young cousin, her back to me as she descended the stairs.  This was several years ago in New Orleans, and I had just pushed her towards something that seemed terribly important at the time.  Her reaction to my vague reasoning reverberates like my own adolescent reaction to my mother’s frequent rebuttal, “…because I said so.”

Yet I lectured myself with the same words in recent weeks, as I postponed indefinitely a long-anticipated book tour.

George Rodrigue endures unpredictable side effects from his medications.  Like many who fight such diseases, even with successful treatment, he has good days and bad, defined lately by an overall lack of stamina.  For now, this precludes any travel.  However, this too shall pass, beginning with, I have no doubt, a return to his easel, a comfort zone he misses, and a place he’s sat only once, briefly, in the past few months.

-pictured, George's studio, photographed this morning, Carmel, CA; click photo to enlarge-

“You’re not alone in this...” 

...people keep telling me, as though I too am suffering.

I know that!  I’ve always known that!  George and I have never doubted our strong support system of family, friends and community.  It’s true, however, that with the exception of a brief outing during the Carmel Art and Film Festival, he prefers, for now anyway, home and all the things that come with it ---the view, the owls, football, and foot rubs--- over the public life.

Yet he continues to impact friends and strangers not only with his artwork, but also with a presence that resonates beyond this Carmel Valley mountain, through Cajun stories and project-planning and an unwavering concern for others.

“You have to celebrate your book...” 

...insists George, even as he knows deep down that, for me, it’s not the right thing to do.  And so I postpone events, successfully halting his protests with a firm and familiar because I said so.

(pictured, all proceeds from The Other Side of the Painting, a memoir recently published by UL Press and based on this blog, benefit the arts in education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts; learn more here; and read a review from The Lafayette Advertiser here-)

To those of you who organized signings and readings, thank you.  Some of you did this several times, moving dates without complaint, only to have me cancel again.  To those of you who marked your calendars to attend these events, thank you.  And to both the hosts and guests, from the bottom of my heart, I apologize for not coming through.

George and I still do hope to make a few things.  The Ogden’s O What a Night!, for example, when George is to receive the museum’s prestigious Opus Award, remains on our calendar, as does the Musical Tribute to George Rodrigue in Destin, Florida.  Up to the last minute, we hope to attend these special events and, as a back-up, George’s sons, André and Jacques, stand by to fill in for their dad, expressing his gratitude for these honors.

(pictured, George Rodrigue with sons Jacques and Andre, Carmel, California, October 2013)

Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, Louisiana Capitol Park, Baton Rouge

11:00 a.m. – Exhibit chat with curator Marney Robinson, showcasing a special exhibition of photographs and original artwork from the George Rodrigue private archives, State Library Foyer-

12:00 p.m. – Cooking demo with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, featuring The Pot & the Palette:  100 recipes by Louisiana’s greatest restaurants with artwork by Louisiana’s most talented student artists

This irresistible cookbook, with a Foreword by Chef Emeril Lagasse, spotlights finalists from this year’s Scholarship Art Contest, a partnership between the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and the Louisiana Restaurant Association.  Learn more and pre-order at this link-

Back to feeling alone...

The only time I feel alone, honestly, is when I leave George for even the smallest errands.  The grocery store, the post office, a pharmacy run.  Those are lonely, empty and, fortunately, temporary places, always complicated by the right thing to do.

“You have a beautiful smile...” 

...noted a kind Rodrigue fan last week, one of fifty or so patient, flexible folks who turned out for Coffee & Conversation at the Jefferson Parish Library in Metairie/New Orleans, where we visited on a facetime screen rather than in person.

The compliment meant a great deal to me, not only because I share our mother's smile with my sister, but also because deep down I worry and, occasionally, panic, as we humans do in such situations.  However, deeper down, the reality is that I’m incredibly happy.  You see, I am never alone... 

...because I have George.  And by God, that’s worth smiling about.


-pictured above, Rodrigue Studio, Carmel, California, October 2013-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Introducing... The Other Side

From the Introduction to The Other Side of the Painting by Wendy Rodrigue, published October 2013 by UL Press-

My mom, an artist, talked me into my first Art History class, a sweeping journey from cave paintings to the start of the Renaissance.  Previously, I avoided it, thinking I preferred self-discovery through my mother’s books.  Yet from day one, I sat lost in another time and world.  I imagined the hand that held the brush, something I still do, even with George’s paintings, even after I watched him apply the paint. 

(pictured, George Rodrigue at his easel, Carmel, California 2013; click photo to enlarge-)

Somehow, imagining the artist puts me in that place, those circumstances, as close as I would ever come to inside his head.  It’s been my obsession as long as I remember- to understand how others think and feel, why they do the things they do, and that somehow it’s all rooted in good.  (…at which point George gives me the Hitler speech).

Simultaneous to early Art History, I took “Shakespeare’s Comedies and Histories,” also in the mid-1980s at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, interweaving in my mind the stories, historical figures, language and art.  In the library I discovered the media room where, in those pre-internet days, I watched the BBC Television Shakespeare, further enlivening not just history, but another’s spirit, whether Shakespeare’s, the character’s, or the actor’s, so that I might satisfy a small bit of my curiosity and learn who they are and how they tick.

(pictured, George Rodrigue at his easel, Lafayette, Louisiana, 1971; click photo to enlarge-)

Maybe it’s empathy, but I think it’s more.  It’s an indefensible obsession, something that drives George crazy, as I chase down a rude waiter not to tell him off or kill him with kindness, the southern way, which was never my way, but rather to honestly find out if we’ve had a misunderstanding, if we offended him, or if a thoughtful word just might help a problem that has nothing to do with us at all.  I lose sleep over these unsolved muddles, replaying conversations and missed opportunities in my mind.

And I believe that all of it makes me capable of better understanding the artist, any artist, so that even a concrete sandwich is someone’s personal expression.  I may not relate to it or want it within my collection, but I respect it as coming from within someone else.  (….again from George the Hitler speech, this time combined with the crappy art speech).

George shakes his head over my elation at the recent find of Richard III’s burial site and skeleton.  I’ve watched the videos repeatedly of the dig and DNA discovery, imagining not that I’m the English King, but that I’m the archaeologist, enchanted by such a find. I imagine that the hand holding the tools is my hand, brushing away the dirt, carefully, revealing delicate finger bones, eye sockets and teeth. 

Suddenly Art History, Shakespeare, History and Science coalesce into one magnificent, meaningful skeletal vignette.  I run first to the internet and, dying of curiosity, to my mother’s books and my college books and to Shakespeare, blending it in my mind as it has in England on a university’s lab table.

I believe in integrating the arts into every aspect of education and as much as possible into daily life.  This is why Louisiana A+ Schools (and similar programs in other states) is so exciting, along with a widespread move towards education awareness in museums.  This is also why 100% of my proceeds from this book, as well as related lectures and exhibitions, benefit the programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, including art supplies for schools, college scholarships, and art camps.

I grew up in the artistic, near-theatrical bubble of Mignon, and today, more than twenty years since my last Art History class, I live in the environs of culturally rich New Orleans and naturally beautiful Carmel Valley, California.   Every aspect of my daily life blends with the arts.  My blog, Musings of an Artist’s Wife, allows me to observe and reminisce on paper, with posts lasting indefinitely, unlike a magazine that may end up in the trash or on the bottom of the bathroom pile.

My husband, George Rodrigue, is an artistic embodiment.  For him, as he creates and makes decisions, the art always comes first.  He refers to me often as an artist too. On school visits, however, you won’t find me painting with the kids.  Instead I move through, admiring their work, envying a freedom of line unknown to me.  I paint nothing.  I draw nothing.  Faced with a blank canvas, I feel only anxiety.  Yet George wanted to subtitle this book, The Story of Two Artists, a title so uncomfortable that I barked my rejection without letting him explain.

More than "artist," the word "marketing" chills me, reducing my writing to a sales strategy.  From the beginning, these Musings, whether in my blog, a magazine, or book, are based on one simple concept:  sharing.  Within my essays are my life’s interests.  My hope is that what I find intriguing, most of which involves George Rodrigue, and all of which, thanks to the filter placed on me by my mother years ago, involves the arts, will inspire others, because, ultimately, the joy of my self-expression, whether through writing or public speaking, lies in that challenge.


-learn more about The Other Side of the Painting here; order on-line at amazon or visit your favorite independent bookstore; order a special signed and numbered collector's edition at this link-

-pictured above, first book signing for The Other Side of the Painting, October 12, 2013, Carmel, CA; click photo to enlarge-

-first review, October 13, 2013, from the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, linked here-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Spinning Wisdom

‘Round about, round about,
            Lo and behold!
Reel away, reel away,
            Straw into gold!’*

All my life, I’ve been drawn to women older and wiser.  I like to imagine my grandmothers, although long gone, as young girls, and I stare hard into the faces of friends, some now in their 80s, sure that I see youth, even child-like innocence, in their eyes, even as I value their advice and experience.

(pictured, Spinning Cotton in Erath, 1977 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 30x40 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

I wrote in The Other Side of the Painting about Gladys, an elderly woman I befriended by chance at the grocery store while a student in San Antonio in the mid-1980s.  I read carefully several years ago George’s mother’s day-by-day account of his parents’ courtship, recorded within her diary during the mid-1920s.  And I recall often for young women a story from my own stockpile of wisdom, recounting my Granny Wolfe’s reaction to a romantic break-up not long before George and I began dating:

“But you’re twenty-five!  Who’s going to want you now?”

Although I laugh today about the scene and its meaning, at the time, I caused my grandmother great distress, as I refused to do as she asked and,

“Call him! Beg him! Make him take you back!”

Nevertheless, I weighed her advice carefully, respecting the opinion that came from her 101 years.

George Rodrigue also embraces this wisdom.  He preserves these scenes within paintings, illustrating his mother’s 1924 school class and other early snapshots, such as Boudreaux in a Barrel, elucidated in his own way from the tiny black and white photographs in Marie Courrege Rodrigue’s album.  He also appreciates these scenes from other Cajun families, recreating them on his canvas within family portraits and paintings of nineteenth and early twentieth century Acadian life.

(pictured, Theresa Meyers Dronet and her mother, Anaise Landry Meyers; 512 East Edwards Street, Erath, Louisiana; photograph circa 1939; collection The Acadian Museum-)

“General Dronet of Erath brought me a photograph some thirty-five years ago of his grandmother and great-grandmother,” recalls Rodrigue.  “He asked me to consider a painting of this important slice of Acadian history.  I saw immediately that this was an iconic image, and I reinterpreted it in my Cajun style.”

Warren Perrin, Co-founder of The Acadian Museum and Past-President of CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) recalls Madame Dronet, who...

"...sold her unique textiles from her home to help support her family.  From her dedication to the precious cultural craft, Col. Dronet acquired an early appreciation of his ancestral roots.”

George Rodrigue grew up an only child; however, he was part of an elderly and large extended family, with older parents who were each the youngest of their combined twenty-six siblings. 

(pictured, the Courrege brothers and sisters on the lawn of the house built by George Rodrigue, Sr.; George's mother, Marie Courrege Rodrigue, who lived to be 103, sits far left; New Iberia, Louisiana, 1955; click photo to enlarge-)

It was the fading Acadiana, as remembered by his parents, aunts and uncles, that Rodrigue preserved, beginning in the late 1960s, on his canvas.  This includes not only genre scenes from photographs, but also imaginary scenes, particularly of Louisiana landscapes, as idealized by a Cajun artist’s eye.

(pictured, Landscape with Cabin and Oak, 1970 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 30x36 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

In a sense, Rodrigue inserts his own ancestral wisdom and unique vision onto his canvas just as a spinner might within a quilt.

Dronet describes his grandmother Therese Meyers Dronet (b. 1871) as “the best-known Acadian textile artisan” who “learned to spin and weave by candlelight from her grandmother at the early age of eight.”

“While her mother, Anaise, would ‘card’ the cotton, Therese would spin the yarn on the spinning wheel, as had been done by the Acadians for two centuries. 
“She produced an extensive and handsome collection, including bedspreads ‘courte pointe,’ rugs, blankets, quilts and handbags.  Her pride and personal preference, however, was the ‘courte pointe’ (bedspread) expemplified by the ‘cross and diamond’ in a cordonne, boutonne work-syle. 
“In 1929, a ‘courte pointe’ woven by Madame J.B. Dronet was included in a gift of Acadian textiles presented to the nation’s First Lady, Mrs. Herbert Hoover.”

-from A Century of Acadian Culture, The Development of a Cajun Community:  Erath (1899-1999) by General Curney J. Dronet, The Acadian Heritage and Culture Foundation, Inc., 2000

(pictured, The Patchwork Gift, 1978 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 5x7 feet; click here for more info-)

“Goose quill toothpicks, Wendy, that’s what I need!” declared a wise friend recently, her eyes sparkling like a young girl's. 

Where do I find them?

“Look up ‘apothecary’ on your iPhone.”

“And while you’re at it,” she continued, “find me an old-fashioned doctor.... one with real experience!”

I’ll do my best, I promised, even as I knew that, like the early spinners, we’d have better luck finding such a doctor on George’s canvas than we would on google.


*"Rumpelstiltskin," from Children’s and Household Tales, 1812 by the Brothers Grimm-

-pictured above, Doctor on the Bayou, 1982 by George Rodrigue, 40x30 inches; more info here-

-join artist George Rodrigue in Lafayette on Oct. 20, 2013 for Franco-Fete, benefiting the CODOFIL Escadrille Louisiane scholarship program; details and tickets here-

-in the book, The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (1975, Oxmoor House), Rodrigue interprets these Cajun scenes not only with imagery, but also with descriptive text written in both French and English; learn more here-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips